*Defendants under Gurmessa Ayano charge file called Ethiopian PM Hailemariam Desalegn and other higher officials as defense witnesses
Federal high court Lideta branch 4th criminal bench heard defense statement of the first four defendants of Gurmessa Ayano et al who are defending terrorism charge except for the fourth defendant Bekele Gerba who is only defending Article 257(a) of the criminal code that states about incitement.
1st defendant Gurmessa Ayano: – “The charge brought against me is bogus. I am a member of a legally registered peacefully struggling opposition political party. I work in respect to the laws and principles of the party to meet our goal. We submitted a letter requesting the government to open its door for genuine dialogue following the 2016 public protests because of the so called “Master Plan.” After two years, this same cause pushed the public to another intensified protest in which many were killed. Our party gave its statement condemning the killings and requested the government for dialogue again. In all this, I only presented my (public) concerns respecting the Constitution.
“In the charge, it says ‘…holding meetings at the party office…’. As far as I know, the meetings in our party’s office are related to Medrek and OFC and all the participants are party members. There is no meeting other than such party activities in the office. I was in Burayu town during the protests time to hold party meeting in the town. I discussed with the mayor as part of my effort to get the meeting recognized. In the meeting, I and the mayor agreed to postpone the public meeting because the meeting halls in the town were busy on the day we planned to hold the meeting. Our party is legal and peaceful. It conducts its activities legally and peacefully. The report that the prosecutor brought as evidence against me has no time and date. That limits my constitutional right to defend myself.”
2nd defendant Dejene Tafa: – “I believe the court has made mistake during ruling. In the ruling, the court misunderstood as Ashowa Meda is in Addis Ababa. This is not correct. Ashowa Meda is part of Burayu town in Oromia region. Hence, the secondary prosecutor witnesses who witnessed house search during my arrest were brought from Addis Ababa to Burayu. But the court misunderstood this fact and passed its ruling considering the witnesses were from my home town, Burayu.
“I was near Arada court in Addis Ababa when I was arrested on 24 Dec 2015. They directly took me to my home with five cars full of police. My house was surrounded by military. I asked them to show me court search warrant. They told me that they didn’t have any and entered to my house without a warrant. Both police and security were searching my house. They took books from my shelf. During the search, one police (with civilian cloth) was taking out a paper from his bag and my wife and daughter saw and confronted him. As a result, police made my wife and daughter lied down on the floor and pointed pistols at their heads. I was very shocked. It is how I refused to sign the paper that they said was OLF document. I knew they brought the document and dropped in my house to accuse me. And one witness didn’t sign on it too. The signature you see on the paper attached to the charge is not mine.
“Prosecutor accused me of giving an interview to “terrorist organization’s media” referring Oromia Media Network (OMN). OMN is not labeled as terrorist media. They said I had a meeting with Bekele Gerba; I had never met him for a single day let alone had a meeting with him in the stated date. In the INSA’s report, it said that I was trying to break prison to free political prisoners. I was helping, as lawyer, defendants who were arrested because of the protests in courts and some 200 defendants freed by my legal help. I have never thought of breaking prison.”
3rd defendant Addisu Bulala:- “I was arrested on 24 Dec 2015 while I was heading to Unity University to attend my class. They took me to my home for house search in the evening. My house was surrounded by police. There were cameramen with the police that more look like a film crew. They took books and magazines during a house search. When we get into a small room with a window they said they got OLF flag. I told them it was not mine. I told them that it would be my housemaid’s. I refused to sign a paper that indicated the flag found in my house. They were forcing me to sign. The search witnesses were trying to convince me to sign. (I saw one of the witnesses coming and going here around the court.) Lastly, they forced me to sign saying ‘this is not mine, but it is found in my home’. The other thing they said was found in my home was two fliers (papers). Why do I have only two fliers in my home? It was not mine. They brought it themselves and now presented it as evidence against me.”
4th defendant Bekele Gerba፡- “I will speak only on what the court ruled to defend myself. Mainly, it was said that someone from west Wolega zone called me and told me that ‘people are taking power from the government’ and I replied to him that it was the right thing to be done. This was brought as evidence against me as if I encouraged violence. I always stand for legality and the constitution. My party was conducting election campaigns when I was released from prison for such same accusation. I was also campaigning for election representing my party. Had I believed in illegality, I wouldn’t have been campaigning for election. Whenever we were campaigning for election in rural areas and small towns, government security people were harassing and intimidating us as well as taking our campaigning properties. In all these challenges, I have never thought about violent struggling and inciting violence.
“I spoke at Oromo Studies Association (OSA) while I was abroad. There was no single statement that was inciting or illegal in my speech. My stand and commitment to peaceful struggle won’t change and compromise. For this reason, I translated Martin Luther King’s book on a peaceful struggle to Amharic and Affaan Oromo, the two main languages in the country. Sometime before my arrest, I wrote a note on my Facebook page that called the people to present questions in a peaceful way and refrain from damaging properties. For prosecutor accused me of saying ‘our land will not be given to Gurages and Siltes’ is very contradictory from my principle of equality. I strongly believe in nations and peoples equality. The accusation is far beyond my stand for equality.”
The court was seen repeatedly interrupting the defendants while giving their defense statement for they should only focus on their charge. OFC Vice Chairperson Bekele Gerba (4th defendant) was reading some words that he wrote on his hand palm. It was remembered that Ethiopia Human Rights Project reported that defendants from Qilinto Prison are not allowed to bring notebooks, that’s why Bekele forced to write some words to remember on his hand palm.
Gurmessa Ayano et al called senior government officials including Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn as defense witnesses. Defendants defense witnesses hearing will continue on August 15/2017.